Tables, chairs, shirts, shoes, grass, rose petals, and hair. Familiar things that, in Doris Salcedo’s work, carry the weight of violence and oppression. From June to October 2015, the Guggenheim presented Salcedo’s retrospective featuring works from 1980 to the present. The exhibition showcased the artist’s subtle but powerful approach to the lost lives of marginalized people.
The exhibition took place in the four levels of the Guggenheim’s side galleries, a more traditional space if compared to the peculiar circular ramps surrounding the rotunda. Although the space felt awkward at first, with its columns, small irregular galleries, and circulation through emergency stairways, it soon proved to be a good setting, providing an intimate – almost claustrophobic – experience that forced visitors to confront Salcedo’s works.
Perhaps more impactful is Salcedo’s untitled long-running series (1989-2008) of domestic furniture filled with concrete, which instantly evokes a sense of loss. Chairs, armoires and bed frames lose their functionality and turn into memorials. As in houses abandoned due to war or catastrophe, these objects remain as witnesses to lives that ceased to exist.